We have had a number of banking investigations, leading to — among others — the Honohan Report, the Regling & Watson Report, the Nyberg Report, as well as the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry.
In 2010 Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan found that there was a ‘comprehensive failure’ by the directors of Irish banks to maintain safe and sound banking practices.
International experts Klaus Regling and Max Watson concluded that official policies and bank governance failings seriously exacerbated Ireland’s credit boom, while Peter Nyberg painted a damning picture of the banks, the regulators, and the bank guarantee.
But none of them have nailed who is to blame.
When the decision was made to set up a commission of inquiry into the activities of the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (formerly Anglo Irish) it appeared at last that we would get the full picture.
The inquiry is looking at 37 deals by IBRC, including the sale of Siteserv to a company owned by Denis O’Brien. One of its main functions was to investigate “write-offs” as part of its probe into the activities of the IBRC.
Last Friday Judge Brian Cregan, heading the inquiry, wrote to the Taoiseach stating he could not investigate any transactions involving “write-offs” because issues had arisen around confidentiality and legal privilege.
It appears that, under current legislation governing commissions of inquiry, a witness can refuse to give evidence or disclose documents if they believe them to be privileged or confidential. This goes way beyond the rights any one would have in a courtroom.
But the central issue is not whether the judge can obtain confidential documents but whether he can circulate them to third parties or not.
It appears he cannot, and that is why the directors and management of IBRC have voiced concerns that, without unrestricted access to all documents relating to the matters to be investigated, their right to fair process is compromised.
How on earth did the Government miss this one? Did the attorney general alert them to these restrictions and was Judge Cregan himself aware or made aware of them?
Now the Government finds itself fire fighting yet again, forced to bring in emergency legislation to give Judge Cregan more powers. As usual, when it comes to our banking collapse, we are left with more questions than answers.
The whole purpose of the inquiry was to examine individual transactions and to find out who did what and when.
Laying the blame on ‘the banks’ or ‘the Government’ or ‘regulators’ is all very well but when everyone is to blame, nobody is.